• Natalie Wisdom

Darren Burkett, Canada-based Professional Actor, Choreographer, Educator.

[Interview Date: November 12, 2020]

Matilda First National Tour, Angelina Ballerina and more.

Where were you on March 12, 2020, the day Broadway shut down? And what was the week leading up to it like?

I was at my parents’ house, just outside of Vancouver, BC. My lead-up to it actually starts a week before the week before. I had just finished a contract, playing Pepper in Mamma Mia, in Calgary and was going to visit my boyfriend, as he was on a cruise ship contract. I was flying out on February 16th, 2020, and I was getting on the ship in the Seychelles. And I was going to cruise with him for 2 weeks, and end up in Singapore. Before leaving, I was starting to hear about this virus in China and was a little concerned, but not panicked. Got to the ship, no problem. But about a week into the cruise, they announced that we were being diverted to Dubai, rather than Singapore. Then, the night before I got off the ship (now in Dubai), my boyfriend and his cast were told that they were being released from their contracts and needed to be off the ship the next day. Moral of the story: It was a really rough situation, but we both got off the ship, and both got to fly back to Canada together. No bans were in place about international travel yet; we got back on March 6th. Then, a little more than a week later, everything shut down. It was a hectic time to say the least.

Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions would be closed for this long?

Not at all. I was contracted to Dance Captain a production of Billy Elliot that started rehearsals in April, and originally, we were told it was all going to be fine. I was supposed to fly back to Ontario for an audition, and then, that got cancelled. And then, the show got cancelled. And I started seeing the writing on the wall. This wasn’t going away anytime soon. But did I think it was going to be 9 months of this, so far, with no end in sight? No.

What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

I’ve been teaching a bit. It’s been nice to have that connection to theatre. I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix. Haha. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family and my boyfriend. I’ve been going on daily walks. But it’s been really hard. Lots of online therapy sessions, lots of sad days. But I think it’s important to have those moments too right now. Feel them, and be ok with them.

What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?

I’ve really struggled not being able to perform. I’ve been very blessed, in terms of how much and how often I get to perform. So, this has been a really weird time. We also, so identify with what we do as performers. It’s hard not to have that anymore. I think the big thing for me, in terms of struggling, is the uncertainty of it all. We already have pretty uncertain jobs, and to add that extra level of uncertainty is challenging.

What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?

One large positive is that amount of time that I’ve been able to have with my family. My family’s all out in BC (British Columbia), and I live in Ontario right now; and have for the past 6 years. This is the most amount of time that I’ve been back since I’ve moved. I’ve gotten to really know my two nieces (who are 4 and 7, and adorable!) and be in their lives for a while. And it’s been really nice to watch my boyfriend get to know them all as well and really become a part of my family. That’s been a huge plus this year!

What is your biggest concern right now?

My biggest concern right now is the health and safety of my family and friends. I can worry about my job until I’m blue in the face, but at the end of the day, that is something I can’t control. My family and friends being healthy and remaining healthy is something that makes me stress at night!

What do you miss the most about live theatre?

I miss the rituals. I miss signing in at the stage door and chatting with the cast and the make-up/hair/costume rituals you create for specific shows. I miss weird backstage antics and superstitions. I miss what I do, but what I miss more than that is the community of people that create what we do!

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

There have been lots of blunders and bloopers that come to my head. But one of the most meaningful was when my mother came to see West Side Story. My grandfather (who was a big influence on music in my life) had passed away about a year before, and one of his favorite songs was “Somewhere”. Little did my mother know, the creative team decided to do something different and had me sing “Somewhere”. After the show, I went to see my parents in the lobby, and my mom apparently started crying when I started to sing and didn’t stop crying until I saw her in the lobby. We held each other for a while and both cried. It was a really special moment.

What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?

I’m most excited to go and see shows. As much as I love doing theatre (and I LOVE doing theatre), I also love watching it and partaking in that shared audience experience. And to share in that sense of community again. Performers giving to audience, audience giving to performers, and everyone living in that world for the night. And then it disappearing until the next night!

What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?

Be patient (also advice for myself). It’s going to come back, and it’s going to come back (hopefully) better and more inclusive for everyone. For the time being, train while you can. One of the lovely things about this time is being able to live in any country in the world and take class, online, from amazing artists in a different country. If you love it, keep going. Find ways to keep doing it and learn from it. Also, be kind to yourself when you’re not motivated. That’s ok too!

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Into the Woods

Favorite role you’ve played: Michael Wormwood or Will Parker

Dream role: Bobby Child in Crazy for You or Bobby in Company

Favorite Movie Musical: Singin’ in the Rain

Movie that you think should be a musical: Miss Congeniality

Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or tradition: I love the lore behind a ghost light, and I think it’s especially prevalent right now.

Favorite Theatre Superstition: I’m not super superstitious… I observe superstitions for others, but I love the reason why you’re not supposed to whistle in a theatre!

Favorite Dressing Room Item: A good group of people (Is that an item?!)

Rehearsal bag staple: Ibuprofen… For a dancer of a certain age…

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